Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

Women Against Men, Storm Jameson

I lazily read a collection of three novellas, Women Against Menby Storm Jameson. It was published in the early 1930s, but Jameson's voice is remarkably fresh, and the first novella, “Delicate Monster,” enraptured me the most; it featured two rather embittered women writers unable to part ways, though they did not particularly like each other. “She has a lively vulgar mind, which never fails to amuse me,” one says of the other, explaining why their lives are so intertwined. “She is everything I dislike---as well as everything I have not had the courage to be.” The people she writes of are lost and searching, which I suppose is a rather universal condition. “‘I feel I must learn about life. Shall I read biographies? Or travel? How can I learn?’” This is Rodney Whimple, a young writer, still feeling his way; recent books, such as Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, to name just one, still joust at these everlasting meditations.

Jameson, through her narrator, also reveals her own philosophy on writing: “I had the misfortune to be brought up in the belief that the first duty of a writer is to make himself clear. (That done, he may give himself the further trouble to be easy---and then, brief.)” The narrator can’t live up to these mandates, but the crisp, breezy style of the novella clearly differentiates Jameson from the personae she channels. Nonetheless, I love the brittle, solitary woman narrator; she offers a counter to the sentimental, lovesick characters that so often are held up for us. “Since I have lived alone I have done exactly as I chose.  … Victoria would interrupt to tell me that I lead a narrow, dry life. I tell her that it is the one I chose. … All I know is that it suits me to live alone, to eat when I choose, to think constantly of the novel I am writing, and to sit down to my desk the moment I get up from my dinner-table.” She’s not warm and fun, but she does offer an interesting, atypical role model.

And her loneliness, oh, her loneliness. How I love its quiet humility: “It is only when we are young that we fear loneliness. As we grow old a useful instinct reconciles us to it---unless we have been weakened by a happy marriage or the too loving company of a friend. I suppose that the farther we travel (in Time) from the enclosing flesh of our human mother towards that of our mother the grave the more independent and indifferent to anything outside ourselves we become.” All the things that we are told will make us happy in fact weaken her; only the trial of being alone can be her salvation. I suspect this woman wouldn’t be such a pleasure to be around, but what an interesting sketch to study.

I didn't much care for the second novella in this collection, The Single Heart, but the third, A Day Off, was also quite resonant. Probably worth looking more deeply into Ms. Jameson's life and other works, which seem to be rather voluminous.